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EAGLE RALLY 1998 - A daylight road rally ahead of its time

First published in Valve Chatter, Newtown & District Auto Club's news magazine, October 1998

This is an explanation of how Graham Evans and I ended up running a day light road rally, similar to today's Targa Rallies, when there weren't any rules designed for that type of event.

Graham had been thinking about running a daylight event at Sweet Lamb which wasn't a stage rally for some time - basically a cheap fun event. Last year we had discussed the possibility of using the 'Safari' format which allowed a 40mph average speed - the RAC intended for those rules to be used for 4WD events, but the rules were lose enough so that you could get away with running standard cars. The talk came to nothing and the RAC tightened up the rules for 1998 so that we couldn't use them.

We then went through a slow but logical thought process -

  • Many road rallies are decided on sections that use tracks and forestry roads off the public highway.
  • Why not run a rally with all competitive sections on private land?
  • Despite a wide spread myth, there is no rule stopping the multiple use of roads on a road rally.
  • Why not use somewhere, such as Sweet Lamb.
  • We could use a number of 'laps' to bring the mileage up to an acceptable level?
  • If there are no competitive sections on the public highway, why not run the event during the day?

A trawl through the Blue Book seemed to indicate that, although it wouldn't be within the spirit of the rules, we could run such an event without breaking any. Once we'd come up with the format there was a major hurdle to clear: Would the RAC give us a permit?

Graham contacted the RAC and after some hesitancy we got the permit. The feeling Graham got was that the permit was issued not because the RAC thought the event was a good idea, but rather because they couldn't think of a reason why they couldn't allow it.

When you get a permit, a note accompanies it which usually says that "an RAC Observer may be appointed to observe the event". The note I received said, "an RAC Observer will be appointed”. Not surprisingly they were going to keep an eye on us.

Graham then negotiated a price to run the event at Sweet Lamb. He came away with a charge per car that was half the cost of a stage rally. Meanwhile I set to work on the regs, a task where you generally dust off last year's edition and change the dates. However, the new format meant an almost complete re-write.

The major problem facing us then was to devise a route that would get a result. Luckily Sweet Lamb has plenty of triangles, so we lay out a route which would use Route Checks and a manned Give Way on each triangle. This meant that we would have the cars stop three times at each triangle.

The other issue was over the fact that we wanted to run all sections to the second; the WAMC rules forbid any road rally using more than one standard section timed to the second. In addition, the Blue Book says that sections timed to the second can't use private land.

To the rescue came the much misused regularity section, designed as a method of testing crews’ abilities of keeping to a set average speed over a given distance, where you're penalised for being both early and late at a control. All our sections were to use an average speed of 30mph (the maximum allowed); we didn't intend anybody having to deal with the problem of arriving early!

Another difficulty was over maps for the rally. None of the roads in Sweet Lamb appear on the OS 1:50,000 map. In addition, we'd be using an intricate route which called for a larger scale map. The only solution was to create our own. A couple of visits to Sweet Lamb resulted in a pretty accurate but uninspiring black and white map which showed the roads but little else. A 2cm grid was overlaid on top of this to allow crews to be able to plot with a Romer.

Given the amount of interest the event had raised when I'd put the word around about the new format, I was expecting to be deluged by entries. However, after the first twenty had arrived within the first ten days of the regs being available, things went quiet. It wasn't until the weekend before the rally that things picked up again and I took twenty of the fifty entries in four days.

On the day before the event, as the route was laid out at Sweet Lamb, the weather was fine and sunny. However, we awoke on Sunday morning to pouring rain. It wasn't to stop all day.

A short walk across the upper farmyard, which was the rally's base, resulted in you getting soaked through. It was misery for the marshals. I was part of the results team and we had to contend with sodden timecards being handed in. The codes written on the cards were illegible and some cards were nearly falling apart.

We had intended to use both fords on the route, however before the kick off time it was obvious that the lower gravel bottomed ford was impassable. The concrete bottomed ford at the lower end of the farmyard wasn't so bad. We quickly changed the route so that all four laps would use the one ford. However the water was rising visibly as the first section progressed. A number of less cautious drivers had their cars grind to a halt in the water - a couple got no further, their rally lasting just 200 yards. For the remaining sections we were allowed to use the bridge rather than the ford. Each competitor was informed of this as they started the second lap.

Despite the weather the rally held together, but after three of the intended four laps we decided that we'd have to call it a day as the poor marshals were suffering. A big thanks must go to all the marshals who put up with the atrocious weather to keep the rally running.

The format certainly worked with crews dropping times at all controls - the winners dropped over 14 minutes. It didn't turn into a quasi-stage rally and navigational ability was a major factor in a team's success (or otherwise).

After the rally I sent out a questionnaire to each competitor to get some feedback on the new format. The general response was favourable, with the vast majority having enjoyed the event despite the weather. All said they'd enter it again. The maps however did attract criticism.

As for the RAC, their Observer, West Mids RLO Dave Lucas, was perfectly happy. He was taken around the route by Graham and checked our mileages tied in with the 30mph limit - they were smack on. In addition, he checked the clocks and they were all set correctly. It looks like Graham and I will be saved a visit to a Motorsport House tribunal.

It therefore looks likely that we'll run a similar event next year, there will be a slightly revised format as we learnt a number of lessons from this effort. Of course, that does depend on the RAC letting us do it!